Posts Tagged ‘Jazz’

Sunwatchers

Following the searing burn of their previous album, II, is no easy feat but it seems that Sunwatchers are more than up to the task. As the band flings themselves into Illegal Moves, they tear another hole in the cosmic quilt – shredding the mind and invigorating the soul. Every minute of the new LP is built to launch the listener through a full-body wormhole in space and time – hurtling enough sax n’ skronk one minute to bend the brain, and cooling out the curdle the next with a rippling display of Kosmiche calm. In the world of Sunwatchers Free Jazz, Psychedelia, Krautrock and Space Rock are all on the same temporal plane – either that or once the needle drops we all inhabit several simultaneous universes that have converged on a single aural vessel to enter their plea for a balance between harmony and discord.

They were dipping into the well of electric Miles with shades of Ayler before, but that was then and this is now. Now there’s less mercy, less need to return to the structures that serve. Now the band is hot-gluing High Rise and Pharaoh Sanders to the tail pipe of Hawkwind’s space ship and letting the jagged edges tear up all the no wake zones along the Universe’s glowing canals. Now the band is slicing bits of Sun Ra’s Ark and tying them to the bumper of a biodiesel-powered minibus with Alice Coltrane (whom they cover as well) on the 8-Track at top volume – spreading an aura of defiant calm to the huddled masses. Now they’re building war cries and lullabies for a time when talk is rendered irrelevant so only the splatter of feedback and the warble of synths will communicate the proper level of dread and dreams and anger and anguish.

I said before that there’s no better moment in time for a band like Sunwatchers to exist, and I stand by that statement. The band is recording the moment the wave crashes and rolls back. Not only are they standing at the fray, but they’ve got the thread in hand to pull apart the seams as they tumble headlong into the unknown – taking us with them.



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Cochemea

In a year that forces the question of the right to exist within borders to the forefront, Cochemea Gastelum’s debut LP for Daptone seems almost as presciently political as it is a tour of cultural force. Bestowed by his parents with a name that means “they were all killed in their sleep,” Cochemea comes with a born-in reminder of disparity. Drawing as often on the rhythms of his Yaqui and Mescalero Apache ancestry as he does on ‘70s jazz-funk fusion and Mexican huapango traditions, Cochemea brews a potent picture of the bedrock diversity that drives the true heartbeat of America. Gastelum has described the record as a call for unity – a reminder of what melodies and rhythms bind us rather than what differences divide us. There’s no denying that he’s woven a tapestry that so finely crosses cultures its difficult to see the stitches, but getting the masses huddled under it for comfort is another challenge entirely.

The reliance on indigenous rhythm, chants that feel like prayers, and playing that not only invokes movement but meditation are all pushing the record past any standard fare jazz or funk records bubbling up in 2019. Like Sons of Kemet’s acclaimed LP from last year, this is an album constantly in conversation with culture. Its attempting to bridge genre, genealogy, heritage within the boundaries of a country that’s constantly at odds with its own revisionist history of who’s land stretches between those shining seas.

More than anything, though, this feels like a record that’s a reflection of self, rather than an amalgam of taste, time, and tenure. Gastelum’s worked with everyone from the Dap-Kings and Antibalias to Beck and Amy Winehouse, but this is a deeper dive into what makes a person whole, rather than what makes a person move. While not a tangible word is said over the album’s course, the subtext hums loudly. The chants draw out the salt from the wounds. At its core, All My Relations strikes a balance between melting pot mentality and patchwork precisions – as Gastelum and his cohorts erase the divisions between genre they’re careful not to completely wear away the imprint each culture leaves on the music. They’re reminding listeners that we’re only the latest to dance across this particular dirt, and lines or no lines, we won’t be the last.



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Bill Orcutt on James Blood Ulmer – Odyssey

This week I’ve got a two-parter Hidden Gems that focuses on a couple of underground legends. In anticipation of the release of their latest collaboration, Brace Up!, both Bill Orcutt and Chris Corsano have contributed picks to the series. I’m starting here with Orcutt, whose singular guitar style defies all schools of tradition. As such, he gravitates to a guitarist who’d been flouting conventions long before him and it seems fitting that Bill has payed tribute to the great James Blood Ulmer here. Orcutt has built an enviable catalog of works going back to his ’90s work with the seminal Harry Pussy and on through collaborations with Alan Bishop, Michael Morley, Circuit des Yeux and Loren Connors. Check below for how Ulmer’s work came into the life of Orcutt and how Odyssey impacted his own musical journey.

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Goatman on Robert Fripp / Carlos Garnett

When Goat’s World Music found its way out I was immediately smitten, and certainly not alone it would seem. The album has marked many lists over the years and serves as the jumping off point for Goat’s dense catalog of borderless psychedelia. Now, with a solo album of Afro-funk rhythms and psych-folk freakouts of his own on the schedule I asked the band’s shrouded Goatman to weigh in on some overlooked fodder from the past. While the feature usually focuses on one album, there are, in fact, no rules to Hidden Gems. With that Goatman unearthed two gems from his past that he found intrinsically linked in space and time and by proximity of discovery. With that in mind he explores the impact of Robert Fripp’s League of Gentlemen and Carlos Garnett’s Black Love.

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Szun Waves – “Constellation”

Enter an engrossing new video from jazz-psych combo Szun Waves. The trio, consisting of producer Luke Abbot, drummer Laurence Pike (PVT) and composer Jack Wyllie (Portico), unleashes an enveloping track of glistening tones and majestic brass from their upcoming LP on LEAF. The accompanying video, directed by Sam Wiehl, forms a xeroxed wonderland in muted tones and mutable shapes that reads like microscopic images set to work by the Joshua Light Show. The video’s effects were created with 3D models, paints, solvents, and air fresheners but the results are nothing short of otherworldly. If this is just a taste of the album, I definitely want to sink into this wholesale. Keep an eye out for New Hymn To Freedom in August.

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Sunwatchers

New York’s Sunwatchers straddle the line between psych and jazz with expert precision, but that’s not to say that they’re keeping the line neat between the two. The band’s latest record, II, flows with the air of free jazz, picking up on the skronk of Ayler and the eclectic mayhem of later, electric Miles. The first couple of tracks on the album pin themselves to the genre rather well, but as they progress into the groove and distortion laden “Silent Boogie” it becomes clear that this record is also a top tier face-melter that’s itching to topple into the psychedelic pit. They wander between their two poles quickly and seamlessly so that the listener never quite knows where a song will take them. It makes for an album that’s as dizzying as it is freeing.

Despite being a purely instrumental endeavor, its impossible to mention Sunwatchers without bringing up politics. The band has long been advocates for social change, equality and tolerance – going so far as to donate their album sales to charity. This time around they’ve taken their band crest/mission statement, long included in some form in their artwork, and put it on the cover, front and center. It cements their standing as a musical force for change and, while some might see it as trending towards a year of public statements said for applause with little backup, the donation of the proceeds to prison abolitionist charities seems like the public is just catching up to them.

Besides, if this year needs a sound it might be the furious skronk and bent metal n’ feedback wail of Sunwatchers. Sometimes a good scream into the void and a knotted riff comedown is the only recourse to feeling powerless on a daily basis. If that kind of catharsis sounds appealing then I’d wholeheartedly recommend a few spins ‘round with Sunwatches on the speakers. II only crystallizes the band’s hurricane in a bottle sound and repurposes it for the common good.



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Greg Fox

So the backstory on this one has to do with Fox rigging up software (via Sunhouse) that reacts to to his drumming, breathing the life from his motion into virtual instrumentation. Frankly, we’re pretty much all out of our depth on the physics here, but the emotional response is much further reaching and harder felt. The Gradual Progression nods to the free flowing works of Don Cherry and Pharoah Sanders while tugging at the the slightly more reigned moments of Sun Ra, but Fox doesn’t merely paint by erratic numbers in the shades of his heroes – he updates the free jazz workbook with a few moves that are distinctly his own.

Where “Catching an L” hums with the same sax energy that would be roundly reminiscent of another age of dissocitative jazz, Fox’s beats crunch with a sound that plays to his post-rock connections, bludgeoning with precision and bite. And that song actually stands as an outlier of defined pound among an album riddled with drumstick bullet holes and cascades of rhythmic ripple that fling themselves far afield of anything that feels moored to solid ground in the stream of consciousness. Fox’s pieces aren’t just complicated drum primers for NYU undergrads looking to notch their way into a teacher’s field of vision. Fox wields rhythm and his associated action painted tones with a scientists aim and an artist’s heart.

The album is dazzlingly complex, but never suffers from feeling weighted down in technology. Far from it, the album’s synth tones breath with wonder worthy of OMNI documentaries, the percussion – even when electronically generated – tumbles in ecstatic bursts that feel alive with human emotion, struggling to contain the joy and pain that Fox channels to his chosen surface. In The Gradual Procession, Fox has created a modern mountain of emotional work that transcends the touchy tags of free jazz and experimental electronic to become simply essential listening.




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King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard

So, three albums down, two to go if we’re keeping score in 2017. I’d opted out of the running commentary surrounding Murder of the Universe, ostensibly a real turning point for the band from a press saturation point. Now, its not that I had deep fundamental issues with the album, but if you’ve been taking the full tour as I have all these years, MOTU had all the hallmarks their best work, but that was as much to its credit as it was the problem. If you’ve heard the canon, you’ve got the idea. They saturated that one with the time change whiplash of their previous heavy psych monsters Mindfuzz, Microtonal Banana, and Nonagon. They even brought in a narrative voice-over in the spirit of Eyes Like The Sky. For a band that usually doesn’t cease to amaze, they seemed to have locked into some safe harbors on that one.

Now that makes their latest, Sketches of Brunswick East, all the more satisfying. The album, conceived collaboration with Mild High Club’s Alex Brettin, sees the band back off their breakneck psych mode, providing a similar respite on par with Paper Mâché Dream Balloon. Where that album went acoustic, this one delves into a lush jazz fusion that winks with the title’s play on Sketches of Spain but winds up lodged much further into the ’70s models of jazz-psych. The luxurious setting here lets the band sink into a completely new direction, embracing their slower jams and letting the groove drive them more than the mania.

I’ve always had a love for the band’s softer, silkier work, and after a low key show upstate NY a few years back that leaned heavily on that material (think “Stressin,” “Sleepwalker,” “Hot Water,” “Slow Jam 1”), its felt clear that they were also itching to embrace that direction. The album is all about vibe, playing up bass, hooking in Brettin’s beats to tone down their usual tornado of double drums, and letting Ambrose lay the flute on thick. This is the kind of album I look forward to from the band. It’s the kind that indulges and I’m all about their indulgence – want to keep things burning the psych core, make it microtonal, make it acoustic, learn the oboe, go jazz funk. With five in a year, they can’t all lean on the psychedelic warlord principles that shaped Nonagon Infinity. That’s a high water mark for sure, but Sketches proves that they can’t be backed into a corner.



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Wand’s Cory Hanson on Miles Davis – Get Up With It

There have been many bands that I’ve seen evolve here at RSTB, and with varying results, for sure. Wand’s evolution from fuzzbomb psych stewards to their current incarnation as archivists of alternative’s more ambitious corners is a journey that’s been exciting to experience from a listener’s vantage. I’d had a missed connection with the band’s Cory Hanson when he ventured into psych-folk for a solo endeavor last year on Drag City, but this time around the fates have aligned to get in a Gems feature on the verge of the release of their fourth album, Plum. For the uninitiated, Hidden Gems explores an album that the artist finds underrepresented in the canon of popular culture – the kind that falls through the cracks and deserves a shining light. Here Cory Hanson explores Miles Davis’ 1974 double album Get Up With It, explaining how it came into his life and how it’s had an effect on his own songwriting.

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Swimming In Bengal

Sacramento psych outfit Swimming in Bengal conjure up some heavy Sun City Girls vibes, while delving into the heart of Eastern psych on their latest album for Lugubrious Audio / Baggage Claim. The record wraps carpets of drone around improvisations built for sax, flute, harmonium, gourd guitar, and scattered shards of percussive debris. Its easy to play at creating psych that wanders into the exotic, try on a few fancy hats and pretend that non-Western music carries the only chords that “speak to you,” but SIB seem to have spent a bit more time laying into the meat that supports carrying the mantle here.

Multi-instrumentalist Tony Passarell worked with Danish-Congolese saxophonist and composer John Tchicai, and has gone on to build a unit of players that admirably blend the drive of European free-jazz, South Asian traditional tones, drone and good ole flame roasted psych. Garden of Idle Hands builds as an album, first and foremost, each track a cracked cobble stone in its craggy and crusted structure. The band has a way of imparting a worn feeling of age, timeless and turbulent to their work and as such there are few moments in the record that feel like the were laid to tape in 2016. They dart through worn street tapes picked up at adhoc Indian markets, ’60s jazz flare ups and subsequent ’70s jazz infatuations with stronger connections to non-American sounds. While it may sound on paper that the band is reaching to too many corners simultaneously, in the headphones is sounds like they may have struck just the right balance.


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